By Stephen Fortner
You probably already know that the Jupiter-80 is one of the most
anticipated new keyboards of the year, in part because the classic
Jupiter-8 is still one of the most hunted synths in the world and
invoking its name was bound to create a buzz. Since the public debut at
this year’s Frankfurt Musikmesse show, everyone has been wondering
exactly how the new Jupiter will handle and sound. I’ve now been living
with one long enough to offer a detailed report.
Though “Jupiter” is synonymous with “retro” for many synth enthusiasts,
the only thing that’s self-consciously retro about the Jupiter-80 is the
industrial design: The panel graphics, flat aluminum end blocks, and
Jolly Rancher-like rainbow of sound selection buttons are obvious
homages to the Jupiter-8. Some people will like the aesthetics (I do)
and some won’t, but anyone who sees the new Jupe in person will agree
that it’s built like a tank. The controls and keys themselves are about the
only plastic you’ll find—all else is thick, burnished metal.
The Korg Kronos’ screen graphics may look prettier, but the Jupiter’s
bright, blocky colors and fewer functions on each page make touchscreen
life easier if your fingers are any thicker than a Tolkien elf’s. It’s not multitouch,
but you can touch-adjust onscreen controls like synth knobs and
organ drawbars, and their response is instant and smooth.
The synth-action keyboard is silky, with a feel as the keys hit bottom
that I can only describe as “dead in a good way.” It senses aftertouch,
and unlike most synths, the sensitivity is adjustable in the same system
menu where you’ll find velocity curves. These keys are quiet: Palm
wipes cause a little less mechanical noise than on a Yamaha Motif XF
(reviewed June ’11), and a lot less than on my 76-key Kurzweil PC3.
The Jupiter-80 is not a workstation. It’s a performance synth that
you can also integrate into your studio thanks to MIDI and audio
streaming over USB. You can record audio files to a USB stick or play
them for use as backing tracks, but there’s no multitrack sequencing,
nor does the song player support playback via Standard MIDI files. You
can, however, import SMFs into the arpeggiator as patterns.
The Jupiter-80 (a.k.a. JP-80) is different than most modern synths,
which usually power up with a piano sound in single-patch mode.
Essentially, it’s always in multi mode, and the main level of organization
is the Registration, a setup that saves the entire state of the instrument
minus a few system settings. The Registration buttons on the front rail
beneath the keys (a location familiar to pipe organists) make it easy to
change sounds while playing, but a bit too easy to do so by accident.
Sensibly, the system menu includes a lockout for these buttons.
|Fig. 1. Full of knobs and sliders, the Synth Edit screen gives you access to three stackable virtual analog synths (called Partials) while using up only one sound program.|
A Registration has four parts—Upper, Lower, Solo, and Percussion—
each assignable to a different key zone. Here’s where things get interesting,
because the Upper and Lower parts in turn contain up to four Tones
(single sound programs), a grouping Roland calls a “Live Set.” Each
Tone in a Live Set can have its own key zone, independently of those
assigned at the part level.
At first this seemed unnecessarily complex—why nest a little multi
(the Live Set) inside a big multi (the Registration)? Then, I thought
about how orchestras have sections in which the players work closely
with each other, and I began to see the logic. Building a string or brass
ensemble to work as a cohesive unit in some larger musical context
certainly isn’t the only use for Live Sets—just an obvious one. Plus, just
as a skilled player tailors his or her tone and style to a specific gig, you
may want a Tone to behave differently in a section than if you were
playing it solo. That’s why a slew of parameters are adjustable per Tone
but saved at the Live Set level: pitch, vibrato, velocity response, filter and
envelope off sets, poly/mono, effects routing, and what MIDI controllers
each Tone receives, to name a few. For many of these, you can decide
whether the setting defaults to the value saved with the underlying
Tone, or overrides it.
The Solo and Percussion Parts contain a single Tone each.
Percussion is further divided into Drums/SFX and Manual modes.
Drums/SFX accesses more than just drum kits; I often used it to add
acoustic or synth bass when the Lower part was doing something
more demanding. Manual Percussion reserves the bottom 15 keys
for triggering various one-shot hits such as TR-808 drums and
Fairlight-esque orchestra stabs. The Solo part is intended for sounds
you’d likely play in the topmost range of the keyboard (perhaps
monophonically) but you’re not restricted to doing so; put a grand
piano up here and shift it down three octaves if that floats your boat.
Given this flexibility, you could think of the Solo part as simply
“supra-Upper” and the Percussion part as “sub-Lower,” subject to
some limits. For example, you can’t assign an organ with full drawbar
control to a Solo or Percussion part, because the touchscreen page of
drawbars resides at the Live Set level for Upper or Lower parts only. I
didn’t find this to be any practical hindrance.
You might look at those colorful sound selection buttons above the
keys and think, “Am I limited to the sound categories printed on the
panel for each part?” No, you’re not. Each selection button calls up a
main and alternate Live Set (for Upper and Lower parts) or a main and
alternate Tone (for Solo and Percussion), and you can set defaults for
these in the system menu. While the main sound for a given button
is limited to things more or less in that category (pianos for the Piano
button and so on), you can set a category-spanning range of sounds as
the alternate. Also, the “Other” buttons in the Lower, Upper, and Solo
sections are similarly inclusive.
Tap any Live Set/Tone button twice, and a sound browser comes up
onscreen. With the Upper and Lower parts, the buttons select only Live
Sets, not individual Tones. When assigning individual tones within a
Live Set, you double-tap on the Tone field to bring up another sound
browser, then make your selection on the touchscreen. A number of
Live Sets have only one Tone active to speed things up when all you
want is, say, a nice piano or upright bass.
Honestly, navigating the JP-80 and creating your own Registrations
is more complex to read about than to do. A good deal is immediately
obvious: Want one of those alternate sounds I talked about? Hit the
Alternate button for the desired part. Want to split off a zone on the
keyboard? Hit its Split button. The overall paradigm is different but
musical—as if Roland intended that you could plop Leonard Bernstein in
front of this thing and he’d take to it almost as quickly as Rick Wakeman.
On previous Roland instruments, “SuperNatural” denoted select
sounds that were maximally realistic and rich in articulations that
responded to your keyboarding. (Technical point: Any samples used
in SuperNatural sounds were and are unlooped.) The goal: Letting you
think like a keyboardist but sound like a “native” player of whatever
instrument you’re emulating. The JP-80 labels all of its individual
Tones as SuperNatural, suggesting they’ve upped the game across all
instrument types. For the most part, that’s true.
SuperNatural Synth. A serious virtual analog synth resides in the JP-80,
and at the bottom of the editing hierarchy is a vintage-looking interface
called Synth Edit (see Figure 1). Rather than cloning the Jupiter-8
signal path, it’s set up more like the Gaia SH-01 (reviewed July ’10), with
three independent, stackable, single-oscillator synths. Each has its own
multimode filter, volume and filter envelopes, and two LFOs, one of which is
hard-assigned to the modulation paddle. This is a more advanced synth than
the Gaia, though. First, it sounds better—more cream, less fizz. Features you
won’t find in the Gaia include a unison mode that can get quite huge (at the
cost of some polyphony), a waveshaper that adds anything from a little grit to
a chainsaw buzz, and the option for any oscillator to use either virtual analog
waves, noise, or one of 363 PCM samples.
Hiding in Pro Edit view (a simple list of parameters and their values)
are an “analog feel” setting and separate highpass filters for each of the
three synths. That’s cool because the independent highpass filter in the
Jupiter-8 was a distinctive aspect of its sound. Another hallmark was
that you could affect oscillator pitch with an envelope. The JP-80 covers
this with a separate pitch envelope one edit level up—independent per
Tone, but saved as part of a Live Set.
Everything I’ve described, triple synths and all, uses just one Tone.
With a Live Set, you can multiply that times four, taking advantage of
many additional parameters including overall off sets for the filters and
envelopes. The sound design possibilities here are so huge it’s scary.
SuperNatural Acoustic. Everything that’s not the virtual analog
synth—grand pianos, vintage keys, and orchestral instruments alike—
comes under the SuperNatural Acoustic umbrella. Upright basses are
among best I’ve ever played—all the nuances seemed to fall under my
fingers without my thinking about it, showing that the SuperNatural
engine is indeed doing its job. Th e same was true of the solo and
ensemble strings: I haven’t lost myself in playing for this many hours
since Kurzweil released their first orchestral ROM for the K2000.
Acoustic pianos sound so much like Roland’s high-end RD-
700NX stage piano that I’ve reposted our March ’11 review at
keyboardmag.com/october2011 for your perusal. The JP-80 doesn’t use
the all-modeling technology of the V-Piano, but the same one-two punch
of unlooped samples and modeled details as all the other acoustic sounds.
The dedicated rotary buttons on the panel would lead you to think
there’s a full clonewheel organ inside, and you’d be correct (see Figure
2). It uses Roland’s latest-generation COSM (Composite
Object Sound Modeling) to model individual tonewheels, and sounds
just like their best standalone clone, the V-Combo VR-700 (reviewed
June ’10). So does the Leslie simulation, which resides in one of the
multi-effects slots. I thought it sounded a bit electronic at first, but I
got much more realism by slowing down the rotor speeds from the
factory settings. Oddly, I couldn’t find the usual scanner vibrato/chorus
(which the VR-700 does have) on the drawbar page, among the effects,
or anywhere else. This is a significant omission for organ players, so let’s
hope Roland adds it in an OS update.
The Jupiter-80 simulates divisi playing after a fashion, via a per-Tone
toggle (in Live Sets) called “Layer Section.” Play a single note, and every
Tone you’ve enabled will voice it in unison. Playing multiple notes
allocates the Tone in layer 1 to the highest note, layer 2 to the next note
down, and so on. To approximate a string quartet, you’d put violins in
layers 1 and 2, viola in layer 3, and cello in layer 4.
| Fig. 2. The tonewheel organ and rotary simulation sounds much like Roland’s standalone VR-700 keyboard. You can push and pull drawbars right on the touchscreen.|
This works with most SuperNatural Acoustic (but not synth) sounds.
It’s not perfect, but it’s the only solution I’ve seen in a hardware synth
that lets you direct divisi proceedings without deep programming.
PROS SuperNatural really does work, yielding many of the most expressive and
realistic acoustic sounds ever heard in a hardware keyboard. Monster
virtual analog synth. Full clonewheel organ built in. Registrations facilitate
musical arrangement in an inspiring way. Superb build quality.
CONS Not all SuperNatural sounds are equally stunning. Most
SuperNatural acoustic sounds don’t let you tweak many deepestlevel
parameters. No vibrato/chorus effect for organs at this time.
More knobs and sliders would be nice.
CONCEPT Live performance synth combining multiple synthesis
technologies aimed at absolute realism of every instrument type.
SYNTHESIS TYPES “SuperNatural” comprises multisampling,
realtime articulation management, and various types of modeling.
POLYPHONY 256 voices.
MULTITMBRAL PARTS Internally: 10. Playable from external
sequencer: 4 (corresponding to main Registration parts).
EFFECTS 8 multi-FX ( 4 Upper, 4 Lower), 3 reverbs (Upper, Lower, Solo/
Percussion), 2 compressor-EQ-delay chains (Solo and Percussion), global 4-band semiparametric
WEIGHT 39 lbs.
PRICE List: $3,999
Approx. street: $3,500
| Tone Blender|
This macro control lets you sweep multiple sound settings for up to four
Tones (programs) at once with a single twist of one of the four assignable
knobs. Settings are volume and pan, filter cutoff and resonance, an
attack/decay/release envelope, and sends for the four effects and global
reverb. The white boxes are where you set limits on parameter changes—
set the source value higher than the destination, and that parameter will
go down when you turn the knob up. The Shuffle function sets random
values for everything, within the limits you’ve set. You get two Blenders:
one for the Upper Live Set and one for the Lower.